The Scarlet Empress

Roots: The Arabian Nights' Entertainments, The Lord of the Rings ("The fellowship is gathering"), The Hobbit (the spider), Alice in Wonderland, The Bible (the scenes in the belly of the beast recall Jonah). Iris previously appeared in Magrs' novel Marked for Life. There are references to Aubrey Beardsley, Jules Verne, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Keats, Hans Christian Andersen, Greek mythology, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Village of the Damned, The Wizard of Oz, Katherine Hepburn, Michel Foucault, Star Wars, Edgar Rice Burroughs, William S. Burroughs, the Scarlet Pimpernell, Scheherazade, Narcissus, Doctor Zhivago, Mae West, W.B. Yeats, and Ker-plunk.

Iris claims to have CyberLeader Kroton, from the Doctor Who Weekly/Magazine comic strip.

Dialogue Triumphs: "I dislike analysis and deconstruction and psychology and psychoanalysis, you see, all that stuff. It's just prying."

Iris describes the Master as: "that pitiful, deluded, phallocentric dope."

On the subject of Metebelis Three, the Doctor notes "everything was a kind of Habitat blue."

Iris explains why her TARDIS is smaller on the inside: "That's dimensional transcendentalism, pushed into the next stage."

Continuity: Hyspero is the capital city of the planet Hyspero. There are various principalities on Hyspero. The Scarlet Guard enforces the rule of the Scarlet Empress. Every inch of their bodies is tattooed, and each one has different tattoos. The current Scarlet Empress sits inside a vast glass cylinder filled with translucent, life-preserving fluids largely consisting of special honey and is the latest in a line of nine hundred. All of her predecessors are still alive in jars and are kept in the palace. She is obsessed with the future and decapitates anyone she considers to be a seer, keeping their heads alive on a spike. She turns a former Vizier into a man of living glass. Hyspero's literature celebrates the daring deeds of thieves and assassins. The first Scarlet Empress, Cassandra, was apparently brought to Hyspero by an unnamed species capable of flying.

Ifrits are ghouls native to Hyspero who eat the flesh of the dead and are pallid, soft-bodied, bluish-coloured creatures. Other species include djinn, which are more like spirits, qutrub, which are essentially werewolves, and kabikaj, which are spirits with control over the insect world and resemble muscular orange humanoids. The Doctor summons up a hydra from the Aja'ib. He later encounters a Gryphon. Gila, an alligator man, may be a native of Hyspero. Steigertrudes are large humanoids with leathery skin and small tusks, again possibly but not definitely native to Hyspero. Sahmbekarts are reptilian. One of Julia's crew is a heron-like creature. Dirnars are the accepted currency on Hyspero. Magic appears to work on Hyspero, although the Doctor implies that it is actually a set of laws and scientific principles that he simply doesn't understand. The library in the town of Fortalice contains one thousand and one books, from which the Fortalicians are educated. The bears of the Forest of Kestheven have golden fur and are intelligent, and shave their fur off every day. There are also intelligent birds, including a wren, in the Forest of Kestheven as well as intelligent giant spiders. There is also the Mock Turtle and various sea monsters, including a giant walrus. A Dalek scout ship once set down on Hyspero but was destroyed by the Bearded Lady and her team. The Bearded Lady was stranded on Hyspero by a changeling creature possibly native to the planet.

The console of Iris' TARDIS is made of teak, brass and Formica. She has cassettes of Motown, Abba, Shirley Bassey, the Beatles, the Carpenters, and the Beach Boys. She claims to come from Gallifrey, but the Doctor notes that she is "very evasive". She left Gallifrey for the ordinary things of other worlds, in contrast to the Doctor. She smokes cigarettes and the occasional Cuban cigar and drinks copious alcoholic spirits, which she stocks in her bus. In a previous incarnation, she was a huge fat woman apparently in her late sixties with a thick rope of white hair that people often tripped over. In her current incarnation, she is a short, plump elderly woman with a perm. She has spent most of her life travelling alone, despite occasionally human companions, whose limitations annoy her. She loves the Doctor and would dearly love to travel with him.

She has encountered, or claims to have encountered, Giant Spiders on Metebelis Three along with her then-companion Timmy (Planet of the Spiders), Cybermen tombs on Telos (Tomb of the Cybermen, Attack of the Cybermen), and Drashigs (Carnival of Monsters) and recently escaped from Xeraphas (Time-Flight). She keeps thick, coloured hard covered journals of her adventures and is currently in the habit of making camcorder recordings of them. She carries a blaster in her handbag, which gets broken here. She claims that seven of her incarnations were timescooped into the Death Zone on Gallifrey (The Five Doctors) and forced to battle Ice Warriors, Ogrons (Day of the Daleks, Frontier in Space), Sea Devils (The Sea Devils, Warriors of the Deep), Zarbi (The Web Planet), Mechanoids (The Chase), and Quarks (The Dominators), before confronting the mastermind behind it, Morbius (The Brain of Morbius), who wanted the secret of immortality. Whilst there, she met one of her future incarnations, a young blonde woman in a daring shiny plastic bikini who resembles Jane Fonda. She also claims to have saved Federation envoys trapped on Peladon (The Curse of Peladon, The Monster of Peladon). She also claims to have had a hand in foiling the Dalek Invasion of Earth (The Dalek Invasion of Earth) with her assistant Jeremy. She has met Silurians and Sea Devils. She also claims to have been instrumental in starting the Great Fire of London (The Visitation). The Doctor insists that she lies, and everything she takes credit for actually happened to him.

She tells Sam that her bus is powered by a green and pink crystal beneath the dashboard [possibly Zeiton 7 - see Vengeance on Varos]. She claims to have been raised by a group of Aunts on Gallifrey, who all eventually died, prompting her to travel to the Capitol and demand to become a Time Lady. She was apparently refused, found the bus in the wilderness, and fled Gallifrey. A woman was president of the High Council at the time. Iris' current body is wearing out (but has outlasted five of the Doctor's incarnations), a result of eating raw, still-live Kaled mutant out of a shell when she had tea with a Draconian high prince: she has been slowly poisoned ever since. The Doctor gives her some of the Scarlet Empress' special honey to help her regenerate, and she regenerates into her Jane Fonda incarnation here; she sends the Doctor and Sam a video of her regeneration. Her clothes regenerate with her (see The Tenth Planet, Castrovalva). She saw Mary Queen of Scots executed. She has a bazooka on board her bus. She found that the Seventh Doctor got on her nerves. The taps in her bus are connected to a pocket dimensions containing a reservoir she stole from Canada. Iris met the First Doctor during the French Revolution, before his hair turned white. She has had out of body experiences before. She once had a companion named Gary. Her bus is an older TARDIS than the Doctor's.

The Doctor has recently been buying books wherever the TARDIS materialises and piling them up in the console room. He buys a book of strange marvels called Aja'ib on Hyspero. He has a large collection of X-Men comics. He remained in his Seventh incarnation for decades. He cooks an English breakfast and sings Puccini on board Iris' bus. He carries a Zygon artefact, a Dalek gun-stick, and a sliver of blue crystal that he claims is a fossilised remnant of the mind of the Great One (Planet of the Spiders) but which he actually bought on the Portobello Road. He pays for some provisions with a broken etheric beam locator (Genesis of the Daleks). It is implied that the Doctor is Loom-born (see Lungbarrow) and that his belief that he was born of a more Earthly mother is due to confusion [again, see Lungbarrow - his memories of his "mother" might actually be those of the Other]. He still has a phobia of spiders (Planet of the Spiders). He pickpockets Angela.

Sam likes eggs fried, but not poached. She wears a t-shirt and shorts here. She dislikes Pink Floyd. She borrows yellow silk pyjamas from Iris. The Doctor has told her about his exile to Earth, his house in Kent (first seen in Cat's Cradle: Warhead), and the Master.

Most Time Lords believe that the Death Zone is a vast area, but it is actually no larger than North Wales.

The Chelonians have a version of Cinderella (The Highest Science, Zamper, The Well-Mannered War).

Links: Iris first appeared in Old Flames (Short Trips), where she met Sarah Jane, whom she recalls here. Species visiting Hyspero include Draconians (Frontier in Space), Spiridons (Planet of the Daleks), Shark People (Cold Fusion), and Ice Warriors. Sam notes that she left Earth in 1997 (The Eight Doctors) and recalls the Skarasens in the TARDIS (The Bodysnatcher).

The Doctor recalls visiting Skaro (War of the Daleks), London (The Bodysnatcher, The Eight Doctors), San Francisco (The TV Movie, Vampire Science), and Lungbarrow (Lungbarrow). Iris notes that he has collaborated with Davros (Genesis of the Daleks [and Davros]), Napoleon (Day of the Daleks [and see World Game]), Al Capone (Blood Harvest), the Rani (Time and the Rani) and Hitler (Timewyrm: Exodus).

The Doctor recounts the events of Genesis of the Daleks. He recalls jumping out of an Ice Warrior ship over central London (The Dying Days) and scuba-diving with Zygons (The Bodysnatcher). He again comments that sleep if for tortoises (The Talons of Weng-Chiang). There are references to Sontarans, Aggedor (The Curse of Peladon, The Monster of Peladon, Legacy), Zarbi (The Web Planet), Metebelis Three (The Green Death, Planet of the Spiders), Solos (The Mutants), . Iris' unwarranted and entirely untrue claim to being a professor is probably a nod to Benny.

Location: Hyspero, the Forest of Kestheven, the town of Fortalice.

Unrecorded Adventures: The Doctor has visited Hyspero before. The Fifth Doctor once had Christmas dinner on board Iris' bus with Tegan and Turlough [prior to Excelis Dawns]. The first time the Doctor boarded Iris' bus, he laughed out loud at the idea of a TARDIS exactly the same size on the inside as the out. She once proposed to him at dawn on the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. She and the Doctor met Oscar Wilde in Paris after his imprisonment. The Doctor once told Iris that he was instrumental at Trafalgar (Day of the Daleks [and see the subsequent World Game]).

The Doctor once made a sleigh trip on the ice fields of Myrrh. Shortly after leaving Spiridon (Planet of the Daleks) the Third Doctor and Jo, along with Iris, visited Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas at 27 Rue de Fleurus whilst Picasso and Jean Cocteau where visiting; Jo was expecting to dislike Picasso but found him maddeningly charming. The Doctor met Greta Garbo, Bertrand Russell, Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood in California, and has met Queen Christina. He and Iris met Isherwood on a previous occasion, before he was famous. The Doctor once visited a parallel Roman Empire, which had developed transdimensional travel and fought a beast that secreted poison through its skin in the arena [a reference to the Doctor Who Weekly comic strip Doctor Who and the Iron Legion].

Romana once dragged the Doctor to an opera in Milan and then to see the soprano hermaphrodites of Alpha Centauri, whom he'd never seen before: he found the experience boring.

The Bottom Line: "Have you been bored yet?" "That's not the point!" Appreciation of this novel rather depends on what you think of magic in Doctor Who, but for the broad-minded reader The Scarlet Empress was as much of a surprise as Sky Pirates!. It's a fantastical, magical fairytale which thrusts Iris more firmly into the Doctor Who universe than in her previous short story appearance and does so with style. Enormously fun and very witty, with a whole host of memorable, and frequently bonkers, characters.

Discontinuity Guide by Paul Clarke

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